May 16, 2012

Shaping a flexible forest

Rick Lazes is an artist and entrepreneur who wears many hats. He approaches the creation of large-scale wooden sculptures as an artist, inventor, scientist, producer and developer. An exhibit of his work, “The World is Bending,” is currently on display in Mooresville.

Lazes, who owns NC Music Factory with his son, Noah, has been creating three-dimensional art forms for three decades.

“I started making sculpture when I lived on a mountaintop in West Virginia,” he said. “I was working as a carpenter renovating kitchens, so it was a natural transition to make wooden sculpture.”

First the inventor had to create the process. Now the sculptor spends three to four hours daily at his studio near uptown working on the series. Each piece is a collaboration between Lazes and the craftsmen that work with him.

“Until recently I worked as a solo artist; however, a year ago, I brought in two skilled cabinet makers  to assist me with this new series ‘The World Is Bending,’ ” Lazes said. “They’ve turned out not only to be skilled artisans but also provide a great deal of creative input in the process. Collaborating with other artists adds a new dimension to my work.”

Lazes starts with sketches, then creates scale models. Next his team creates 3-D computer models, and then they start bending wood. Craftsman Paul Veto was recently in the finishing process, gliding a cabinet scraper over the curves of the latest bent ash piece, titled “Mobius.”

“We’ve had to come up with our own techniques and specialty tools,” he said.

When Lazes hired Veto the rule was, “You can’t make anything that has a function. It has to be beautiful with no purpose.”

The raw wood, cut by a family-owned sawmill in Denver, is first planed and sanded until it is smooth to the touch. The plank is then steamed for several hours in an airtight membrane that Lazes invented.

After it has been steamed, Lazes, Veto and Patrick Green lift the now-pliable wood to the bending table, clamp it down, and wrap it around the mandrel, which is used to hold the wood in place until it dries out and retains its new shape. The wrapping process is intense and fast, done in less than five minutes so the wood doesn’t dry out. Lazes cuts the membrane away from the wood, which will cure in place for two to three days.

The bent wood is joined together to form larger shapes, sanded and finished with several layers of oil and wax. Grouped together, the freestanding pieces create a forest of shapes that invites the viewer to walk through, touching each one along the way.

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